I grew up hearing my father repeatedly quoting Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” A life without possessions and attachments. Of course, he was counseling himself because he never threw anything away. Like many of his generation who lived through the Depression era, he acquired a lifelong habit of saving things because “they might come in handy someday.” A philosophy born out of necessity, yet hard to shake decades later when it wasn’t as necessary, and accumulation could become burdensome. Thus, periodically he would announce his intention of moving to a one-room cabin in the woods, as Thoreau had done at Walden Pond. Simplify…

My mother just smiled and continued living her own simplified life. Although also living through the Depression, she had acquired a “clear the clutter” approach to daily living. She threw things away, or donated them, if they were no longer needed. She would get rid of any old, damaged, or extraneous objects lying around the house. My dad would retrieve them from the trash. She had her secret ways of working around his saving reflex. My favorite story about their dynamic took place when she wanted to discard an old braided rug on the back porch which was showing signs of mildew. Every few weeks she removed a braided circle from the outside edge of the rug and surreptitiously threw it away. The rug grew gradually smaller and smaller until she was able to dispose of it completely. When my dad eventually noticed, it then became a family joke. Because even with their differences, they did appreciate and love each other. As did I.

I learned to love both Thoreau and “clearing the clutter” because of my father and mother. In essence, they did live a perfectly simple life together. Neither believed in consumerism or buying unnecessary things. We had all that was needed for a happy life: food, shelter, each other, and gratitude for the small wonders of life, like Nature right outside the door. I grew up in my own version of Walden: five acres in the Illinois countryside. Toys were never as important to me as the trees I climbed (and picked fruit from), the creek I waded in, and the fields I ran across with my dog. When I think of a “simple life,” this is what I see. And, even though I have resided in or near cities for most of my adult life, it is how I live: trees nearby, yards and parks, rivers or ocean.

The natural world, and the simple life, can be found in an urban environment as well as anywhere else. You just have to look for it, and then choose it, consistently. We don’t all have the opportunity to move to a cabin in the woods as Thoreau did, but we can always simplify. To me, that means focusing on Nature’s ever-present miracles and not the passing distractions of the overcomplicated material world. We can build a peaceful, inspirited life based in simplicity. The entire universe lives in those wondrously simple details. That is what Thoreau (and my parents) believed. And the more years I live, the more this essential wisdom guides my life. “Simplify” says it all.

Unsubscribe and Live Peacefully

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
“Subscription” once referred mainly to printed magazines and newspapers (“Your subscription is about to expire—please renew”). Now it’s the backbone of online communication. If you ask a question or sign a petition online, you automatically get subscribed to a barrage of ongoing emails. Subscription has become a cyber activity, distanced from anything real or living. We don’t subscribe to, or unsubscribe from, life. It’s just there, always supporting us. We can, however, lose touch with the essential simplicity of life. We can get entrapped in excess minutia—like too many emails.

A few weeks ago, I reached critical overload with the number of non-personal emails flooding my inbox. Political and environmental groups, spiritual programs and teachers, doctors and alternative healthcare practitioners, bookstores and theaters, online businesses. What a waste of time just to delete them multiple times a day! I went through and unsubscribed from virtually everything except a few key ones. At the same time, I decided to cut back on social media, visiting only occasionally. It was a relief. I felt as if I had lifted the heavy weight of contemporary social busyness and distractions off my shoulders. At least one day a week now I don’t even turn on my computer or phone. Wow, what freedom!

In unsubscribing there was also surrender, letting go into the natural flow of daily life, unmanipulated by technology. I was once again the 9-year-old girl who spent summers running through the fields with my dog or sitting up in a tree reading mysteries. Life was rich, full, perfect. It was a simpler time then, both in my life and on the planet. Now we have to filter out unnecessary complexities in order to live a simple life, one dedicated to what’s really important: connection to the spirit within us and all around us.

Spirit has become the focus of my life in recent years. The idea of unsubscribing as surrender somehow fits with that. As my soul’s wisdom moves to the forefront of my consciousness, I make choices that are more in alignment with a loving beingness in the world. Heart more than head. Social media engages the mind for the most part. What we want is to engage the heart, with the mind giving quiet feedback but not dominating. This is the way to balance, to harmony. The heart is directly connected to our soul’s purpose, and when we live a simple heart-centered life, we are living the “why” of our presence on this planet, in this lifetime.

If I remember each day to choose love and appreciation over distraction and dissatisfaction, then I am connected to the natural flow of spirit everywhere in the universe. Even disliking social media or emails can take you to a place of judgment and negativity. The key is to calmly “unsubscribe” from anything that is not positive and uplifting, anything that locks you into busyness instead of beingness. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Allow your computer or cell phone to be an occasional tool for information or connection. Visit now and then, not continuously. Life is not “virtual.” It expresses itself everywhere in extraordinary bursts of color and light. When your awareness expands and your heart opens, life becomes both richer and simpler. Within that is peace—of mind, of body, of soul.


The Simple Life

© 2008 Anne S. Katzeff / Artist
© 2008 Anne S. Katzeff / Artist
I have always loved the expression “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Implicit in that statement is a recognition of interconnectedness—an understanding that what I do affects the lives of others. If I live without conscious awareness of each of my actions, the entire planet feels the impact. Something as seemingly small as conserving water or buying locally grown organic food makes a difference in the world. How we live creates our future, now.

Equally important is stepping away from the emphasis on consumerism that permeates U.S. culture, especially during the holiday season. Commercials, advertisements, and the mass media promote material acquisition to the point of excess. Much has been written about our throw-away society in which people endlessly buy and discard, buy and discard, overloading landfills and polluting the environment in the process. Segments of the population live in poverty while others aspire to the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Money, cars, houses and all sorts of material goods to fill them is supposedly the American Dream. But is it really?

True abundance has absolutely nothing to do with money or possessions. It’s an ongoing appreciation for life’s simple gifts: air to breathe, food to eat, love of family and friends, the beauty of the world around us. Filling our lives (and the planet) with things is not abundance; it is waste. Waste that leads to an inner emptiness. If we continually look outside ourselves for fulfillment, we will always be seeking, always feel somehow lost and lacking. It is the simple life that brings the greatest contentment. Ram Dass put it succinctly many years ago, “Be here now.” Moment to moment, we eat, sleep, laugh, love. We can find extraordinary pleasure and fulfillment in the simplest, most uncomplicated activities of living a human life on Planet Earth. Chop wood, carry water, as Zen Buddhism describes life before and after enlightenment.

These are not unreachable aspirations restricted to those who want to live alone in the woods like Thoreau or achieve spiritual enlightenment. Some would say that we already have enlightenment within us, that we are already filled with infinite abundance and love. I believe this. My life is rich in countless ways that are not dependent on monetary wealth. It is the simple joys of daily life, sunrise to sunset, wherever I happen to be, that fill my heart to overflowing. In this time of evolving human being-ness, I think many people are now beginning to feel within themselves a desire for greater simplicity, inner peace, and a connection to the source of all life on Earth. May it be so, for each and every one of us.

In the words of Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of Living the Good Life, who lived in rural Vermont and Maine from 1932 until Scott’s death at 100 in 1983:

“The earth is a speck of dust in an enormous expression of life; one grain of consciousness in the totality…. I’d like to get people into the habit of living physically and mentally in such a way that when they get all through, the earth could be a better place to live in than it was….”—Scott Nearing

“Love is the source, love the goal, and love the method of attainment.” —Helen Nearing